On one side of the curtain, in a dim hallway of the team facility outside Aggie Stadium, stood Sacramento State receiver Morris Norrise, discussing the Hornets' 34-27 loss to UC Davis in a soft voice. On the other, the Hornets shed their pads and filed out to the team bus, the slim playoff hopes they clung to entering the Causeway Classic washed away in the game's rainy final minutes.
"It hurt," Norrise said. "Some people you couldn't even look in the eye. Some people it's their last games ever playing football, so it's like a lot of people are down. It's a lot of tears shed right now."
Still seeking their first playoff berth since 1988, the Hornets (6-5) needed to reach the seven-win plateau Saturday and put their fate in the hands of a selection committee for a potential at-large bid to the Football Championship Series tournament. That possibility vanished largely on the Aggies' special teams prowess and four Hornets turnovers.
The Hornets, 4-4 in the Big Sky Conference, managed their second winning season since 2000. They beat a Pacific-12 Conference opponent in Colorado and then-11th-ranked Cal Poly while losing three-point games to Eastern Washington and Montana State, who at the time were ranked first and third in the FCS.
"It's their last game, and they feel pretty bad right now," head coach Marshall Sperbeck said, "so there's not a lot of words that I can probably say to make them feel any better."
In the locker room, Norrise said, "It was more of everybody trying to talk to the seniors and tell them, we're going to miss you. We're sorry for the loss. We were trying to send the seniors out with a big win."
Among those seniors was tight end T.J. Knowles, who caught seven passes for 64 yards but was held out of the end zone for the first time in five games. Linebacker Jeff Badger, starting his 33rd consecutive game, finished with seven tackles and 206 for his career, 13th on the school's all-time list.
In all, the Hornets lose 12 seniors, including center Clay DePauw and starting defensive linemen Matt Lawrence and Avery White. Of their starters Saturday, 16 were eligible to return. That includes quarterback Garrett Safron, running back Ezekiel Graham, Norrise and six others on offense.
"It's encouraging," Sperbeck said. "There's a lot of good young players in the program right now, and I think that bodes well for next season."
Graham led the Hornets in rushing (12 carries, 108 yards, one touchdown) and receiving (seven catches for 81 yards) Saturday. Norrise caught six passes for 50 yards, though he also threw an interception on a trick play that he acknowledged was ill-advised.
Safron threw for a career-high 324 yards and set single-game program records for completions (37) and attempts (66), capping a year in which he set the school's single-season marks for completions (246) and completion percentage (64). His lone interception, on fourth and three from the UC Davis 45, sealed the Hornets' fate with 1:25 left.